Simmie S. Blakney, who was encouraged in his affinity for numbers as he grew up in Mississippi and who at the University of Toledo made a career of mathematics — and encouraging others in the discipline — died Monday of heart failure in Toledo Hospital. He was 85.
Mr. Blakney of West Toledo was a professor emeritus of mathematics at the university, from which he retired in 1990. In 1971, as he began a nearly decade-long tenure as department chairman, he was recognized by the Ohio House of Representatives. He was the first African-American to hold that post at UT.
“He could think for himself and make decisions that gave the department direction,” said Ivie Stein, Jr., an associate professor of mathematics. “He was level headed and had good judgment.”
Mr. Blakney served on the Faculty Senate, helped start the Association of Black Faculty and Staff, and was chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr., scholarship committee and the UT ethnic studies committee.
His focus, though, was students, said his wife, Era.
“The only thing he knew was he wanted to make a difference, and to make a difference was to make sure that students had access to what he knew, and what he knew was math,” she said.
He aimed to show math proficiency’s benefits.
“Mathematics is a part of most everything in life,” he told The Blade in 1990. “I tried to teach mathematics [as] solving some of life’s problems. I only hope that came across in the classroom.”
His own background taught him patience, and he was motivated by the challenge of helping people get over their fear of math, his son Benjamin said.
“If you can instill the confidence in anybody that they have the ability to learn something, that has to be at least 75 percent of the battle won,” his son said.
He was born June 1, 1928, in Clark County, Mississippi, to Leann and Will Blakney. His family and community and a teacher, Mariah Jenkins, recognized his knack for numbers, his wife said. In the rural segregated South, he found freedom in math, his son said.
As long as he got the answer right, his son said, “it didn’t matter who thought what about him, who said what about him. He knew on the inside he was just as smart or smarter as the next guy.”
Mr. Blakney received a bachelor’s degree in 1950 from Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He served stateside in the Army during the Korean War. He received a master’s degree in mathematics in 1955 and his doctorate in 1963, both from the University of Illinois.
He taught at Utica Junior College in Mississippi and was an assistant professor at Grambling College in 1964 when UT hired him.
He was a Mason and belonged to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. He was in Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Surviving are his wife of more than 50 years, Era; sons, Benjamin, Willard, and Erickson, and four grandsons.
Visitation is 7-9 p.m. Friday in the House of Day Funeral Services Chapel. Memorial services are at 11 a.m. Saturday in First Congregational Church, where he was a longtime member.
The family suggests tributes to the Dr. Simmie S. Blakney Memorial Book Scholarship Fund through the Tougaloo College office of institutional advancement or the garden outreach initiative at the University Church on Hill Avenue.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.